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Alexandria: Alright, welcome in today. We are talking about why diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs fail so often. I have Dana here with me, and I’m really excited to dig into this because I think this is a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of people. There are many who wonder, “Why bother with DEI? It never seems to make any real changes, it’s expensive, it’s hard, it’s too much. We have to focus on the business.” So, really digging into why these programs fail and how you can make them succeed. Dana, what are your thoughts on why these programs fail so often?
Dana: For me, some of the top reasons why DEI programs fail, and I’m going to speak from the perspective of a large corporate setting, have to do with leadership and how they engage and support these programs. For example, I’ve worked for a company where the Chief Diversity Officer was never really engaged with their DEI teams or present. This person had been with the company for years but wasn’t involved in any of the DEI programs the team was putting together. So, for me, it’s crucial that senior leadership engages with the teams doing this work to ensure the company meets its DEI goals.
Alexandria: I can relate to that, even from a non-profit perspective. Leadership has to be supportive and understand the DEI strategy’s direction. Leadership buy-in and engagement are significant factors contributing to program success.
Dana: Exactly. Engaging with the teams doing this work is essential, not just for DEI programs but also for other initiatives like recruiting. It’s important for senior leadership to be a part of and engage with the people doing the work within their teams.
Alexandria: I absolutely agree. That leadership buy-in issue can also lead to siloing. When leadership is not fully engaged, you end up with silos where everyone focuses on their roles, and DEI gets sidelined. It’s crucial for DEI to be integrated into the overall business strategy from the beginning.
Dana: Yes, it all starts with that initial decision to build a DEI program within the organization. You must carry it through every aspect of your operations. It’s not something you sprinkle in here and there. It’s a commitment that encompasses everything, from events like Pride and Women’s History Month to Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s not a one-time thing; it’s ongoing.
Alexandria: Absolutely. I think one common issue is that companies start with diversity and inclusion, thinking it’s easier, but they need to focus on equity and belonging first. Diversity and inclusion should be the metrics that show the success of equity and belonging. If you achieve equity and belonging, diversity will naturally follow.
Dana: That’s a great point. You’re right; it’s not just about having events or initiatives. It’s about making sure that equity and belonging are part of your company’s mission and values. Aligning these with your strategic plan is crucial for success.
Alexandria: I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just about events but embedding these principles in every aspect of the organization. Now, when it comes to actions, if a company lacks leadership engagement, what can they do?
Dana: One key action is empowering leadership champions who are already committed to this work. Involve employees from the ground up and create communication platforms for feedback and idea sharing. Also, ensure the person owning this effort can handle the workload and has the necessary resources and support.
Alexandria: Great suggestions. For smaller organizations, forming employee resource groups (ERGs) can be challenging. What advice do you have for them?
Dana: In smaller organizations, start by selecting one representative from each department to bridge communication. It’s vital to have leadership support, as small organizations need all the help they can get to succeed in DEI efforts.
Alexandria: Excellent insights. Finally, DEI should be an ongoing journey, not a one-time destination. Reacting to crises is not sustainable. Companies need to develop a robust DEI strategy, involve employees, educate, train, and collect feedback continuously.
Dana: I couldn’t agree more. Companies need systems in place to handle issues when they arise and ensure they don’t happen again. The work is ongoing.
Alexandria: Thank you for sharing your expertise, Dana. These insights will undoubtedly help organizations in their DEI efforts.
Dana: You’re welcome. Let’s continue working towards making DEI a fundamental part of every organization.